CASPA Tips & Tricks # 3- Follow Through

Ready for another cringe-worthy story? This one ironically enough involves the program I’m starting at in August! The universe settled in my favor, but it was definitely a close call, and I am hoping to help you avoid the same almost devastating scenario.

This story begins last fall. It’s November 2016. I’ve had two interviews so far (a much better start than the first time I applied!) but I am antsy that there are certain programs I haven’t heard a peep from, particularly ones that offered interviews to applicants who submitted their primary applications long after I did.  This prompts me to send out update letters to the remaining programs, letting them know I am still actively acquiring patient care hours, that I have taken on new volunteering roles, etc. One particular program is kind enough to write back to me to say my application is incomplete.

INCOMPLETE?! How is that even possible? I frantically check back to my Excel spreadsheet– primary application submitted May 10, secondary application submitted May 31, secondary application payment (by mail, as a cashier’s check- that’s the kicker) on June 1. I was told they never received my payment. I call Bank of America immediately and they say the check was cashed. Whether or not it was stolen in the mail and cashed by someone else I will never know (the bank could only tell me what day it was cashed, not a branch location or any other information). At this point in November, the program’s deadline has come and gone—literally by 24 hours, but the date has passed. I try not to panic. Fortunately, after I explain my timeline with all the other application materials, the fact that the check was cashed in June and the fact that it is my second time applying, the admissions office graciously allows me to hand deliver a replacement check the following morning (no amount of rush hour traffic in Southern California was going to stop me)! At this point, I know interviews have already been offered for several months and I think to myself that I am doomed.

Long story short- they review my application, I am offered a seat at their last interview day in February, and am shortly thereafter granted acceptance. What a whirlwind.

The moral of this story is to tell everyone how crucially important it is to keep track of EVERY single email confirmation and application submission date and to follow through the minute something doesn’t seem right. Maybe this advice is already a no-brainer for you. This issue with payment was my fault; I should have kept an eye on the check (it wasn’t from my personal account, which was the biggest mistake of all) to make sure it made its way into the hands of the admissions team. Most programs fortunately take application fees via the internet, which typically yields either an immediate confirmation page or a confirmation email (both of which I printed and saved in my massive applications materials binder).

When you’re applying to 24 programs like I did last cycle, organization and check lists are truly your very best friends.  My Excel spreadsheet tracked every single primary application submission, secondary application submission, secondary application fee confirmation, GRE score receipt, etc. The only thing that slipped through the cracks was that darn cashier’s check. And look how important that one piece of paper turned out to be. I should have known better! And now you can know better too. There are a lot of moving pieces involved in submitting a complete CASPA application, and I know at times it seems like a mountain of information to keep track of. I promise the end results are all worth it.


“F” Does Not Stand For Failure

For me, F stands for fearless, fighter, forward….

There was unfortunately one instance back at UCLA where it did mean Failure. On my permanent undergraduate transcript is one of the ugliest things you can see- an F in my junior year Chemistry lab. Not a withdrawal, not a C-, but a full-fledged F.

Here’s what honestly happened (and this is practically verbatim from my secondary application answer) – the quarter I was taking that lab, the professor was teaching two identical sections: one at 8:00 am, and one at 10:00 am. He gave us permission to attend either lecture time, as long as we took our midterms and finals on the days for the section we were actually enrolled in (…some of you can already see where this is going). I had an on campus job that started at 7:00 am, so I would work from 7:00 am until 9:45 am and head over to the 10:00 am lecture. After ten weeks of this routine, my brain got used to that schedule… and low and behold, I wrote down the wrong final exam time in my calendar. The insult to injury was when I figured it all out, I was actually studying for that final in the library right next to the building during the time MY final was being proctored. Can you say OUCH.

Fast forward… begging and pleading with both the professor and the department head did nothing to change my fate. Not only did I have to take the F, I had to repeat the entire course the next quarter. I will never forget that walk back to my apartment- I held my head in my hands and really thought it was ALL over. I didn’t think there would ever be a way to come back from that.

What the admissions committees will want to hear is a much shorter version of that story: that you realize you failed, but much more importantly that you LEARNED and ADAPTED from that failure. This is where I started to change my mind about what that F really stood for. It made me fight so hard for everything I accomplished after that. It made me walk towards the sun and move forward. It made me fearless, knowing the one of the worst academic tragedies was already behind me.

If any part of this sounds like something that’s happened to you (and the lovely Andrea @lifeasapa has a great YouTube video where she admits one of her biggest academic mistakes: you can view it here)  know that it has happened to LOTS of other people. And you DO make it through to the other side.

This whole process is about ownership: owning your mistakes, owning your future, owning your passion for this profession… the admissions committees know you’re human. Otherwise PAs would all be robots. 😉